Supporting and promoting golf in Northern California

Competing From Different Sets of Tees

ptcounterThroughout the past year I would guess that I have received at least 50 inquiries having to do with the subject of golfers competing against each other from different sets of tees. Most of the questions dealt with “men versus women” scenarios, while a few have focused on men playing from White tees versus men playing from Blue tees.

In many instances, those asking the questions did not like the answers I gave. They had preconceived, popular notions about handicapping and thought they had the situation all figured out. I had to inform them that they were wrong.

Unfortunately, these preconceived notions resulted in a significant handicap advantage tilted toward the caller’s favor. They did not want to hear what I had to say, because my answers eliminated their advantage and evened the playing field.

The solution to handicap questions for instances where golfers are competing against each other while playing different tees is really quite simple. Section 9-3c of the USGA Handicap System Manual states: “Different tees usually have different USGA Course Ratings. Since course ratings reflect the probable scores of scratch golfers, the higher-rated course is more difficult, and the player playing from the set of tees with the higher USGA Course Rating receives additional strokes equal to the difference between course ratings, with .5 rounded upward.”

This Section goes on to state that the same would be true for men and women competing from the same set of tees since the USGA Course Ratings will be different for each sex.

Many golfers get confused over this handicap adjustment for one of two reasons: They think Slope is designed to take care of the situation, or they relate net scores to par rather than to the course ratings.

Slope does serve as the perfect equalizer for golfers of the same sex competing from the same set of tees. It adjusts a golfer’s USGA/NCGA Handicap Index proportionally based upon the difficulty of those set of tees as measured by the Slope rating. Slope does not equalize the handicaps in instances where golfers are competing against each other from different rated tees.

Net scores should always be viewed in relation to the course rating of the tees being played, not the par of the course. Two golf courses can have the exact same par and yet be separated by several strokes in course ratings. If you record a net score of 74 from a set of tees with a USGA/NCGA Course Rating of 75.0, you played about one stroke better than your handicap, regardless of the par of the course. If you record a net score of 66 from a set of tees with a USGA/NCGA Course Rating of 65.0, you played about one stroke over your handicap, regardless of the par of the course. In this instance, the net score of 74 actually represents a better playing performance than the net score of 66.

This concept is vitally important when different rated sets of tees are involved. Consider a scenario in which a man is playing from the White tees with a USGA/NCGA Course Rating of 70.0 versus a woman playing from the Red tees with a rating of 74.0. If the man plays perfectly to his handicap that round, he will shoot a gross score that results in a net score of around 70, the course rating from those tees. Likewise, if the woman were to play perfectly to her handicap that day, she would shoot a gross score that results in a net score of 74, the course rating from her tees. They both play exactly to their handicaps, and yet the man’s net score defeats the woman’s net score by four strokes. As you can see, something is wrong!

In short, she is playing a golf course that has been deemed four strokes more difficult than the course the man is playing. After both golfers have adjusted their USGA Handicap Indexes for the Slope ratings of their tees, she needs to add four additional strokes to her course handicap prior to play. This will level the playing field and promote a fair competition for all parties involved.

Why is this important to you? More and more clubs have caught onto the idea of establishing a fourth set of tees at their golf course somewhere in yardage between the existing White and Red tees. Many clubs label these new tees as Gold tees and have established them primarily for, senior men golfers who find the White tees too long or for exceptional women golfers who want more of a challenge than the Red tees present. In each instance, the golf course is providing its golfers with an opportunity to maximize their enjoyment by permitting them to select a set of tees that best matches their game.

Why not provide your tournament entrants with the same options?

Let your entrants individually select the tees that they want to play from and then adjust the course handicaps accordingly based upon the difference in ratings. These adjustments have even been built into TPP-2000 (NCGA/GHIN provided Tournament Pairings Program) to assist you in accomplishing this. Such a move is bound to increase everyone’s interest and enjoyment in your tournaments… and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Director of Course Rating & Handicapping Jim Cowan can be e-mailed at